If you’re anything like me, you got drilled in good manners as a kid. Napkin in your lap. “Yes, ma’am” “No, sir” Even Barney sang about “please” and “thank you” being the magic words.
Here’s the thing, though: “Thank You” is played out.
It’s meaningless now, as empty as the promises we heard in the recent presidential campaign. It’s like a reflex now, completely void of thought or sincerity. The waiter fills an empty glass. “Thank You.” Someone gives back a possession they borrowed. “Thank You.”
We killed “Thank You”, but keep parading its rotting corpse around like faux-polite version of Weekend At Bernie’s. And I’m here to cremate it. That way, we don’t have to bury it. We can keep it on the mantle and acknowledge its place in our lives when we need to.
But, please, for the love of everything… Stop saying “Thank You” so damn much.
I’m not alone in this.
Cultures across the world don’t patronize each other with fake niceties:
In India, people—especially when they are your elders, relatives, or close friends—tend to feel that by thanking them, you’re violating your intimacy with them and creating formality and distance that shouldn’t exist. Deepak Singh, quoted in an article from The Atlantic
“Fuwuyuan! Fuwuyuan!” or “Waitress! Waitress!” can be heard in Chinese diners. It’s not impolite to state what you want: a glass, a bowl, or a pair of chopsticks. And there’s no “Miss, could you please get me another beer?” Store clerks are the same. Rather than being flattered, they take offense—“Don’t tell me ‘Thank You’ for doing my job. Now, get the hell out of the way. I’ve got other customers.” That is, simply, the etiquette of the street.
Intimate relationships are just as interesting. On one hand, people in China can be incredibly tender and courteous. However, there is a bluntness among friends that would seem downright rude to most Americans.
At a restaurant with friends, one person may carefully select a few choice morsels from the common bowl and place them on a neighbor’s plate. Another person will pour tea or beer for everyone else before even considering pouring his own. Then, another will announce Gei wǒ yan!, literally “Give me salt!”, with no sign of a please or thank you involved.
A Chinese linguist, Kaidi Zhan, says that using a please, as in “Please pass the salt,” actually has the opposite effect of politeness in China. The goal of being polite to each other with words is to shorten the social distance between you. And saying please serves to insert a formality buffer.
“Good friends are so close, they are like part of you. Why would you say please or thank you to yourself? It doesn’t make sense.”
Even the Latin root of polite – politus – means polished, made smooth. In the Chinese sense, it means to smooth the relationship between two people. Quite the opposite of inserting a formality buffer.
And, in America, it’s starting to form a fake-ness buffer.
We say “Thank You” because we were told to, because we were told it’s nice, because we got in trouble when we didn’t. It’s not about the other person. It’s about ourselves.
It’s merely for show.
Consider two scenarios:
Scenario one: John visited Sloan’s house and walked off with her flash drive. Sloan asked John to return it, which he did.
Scenario two: Erin and Sue are deciding what to eat for dinner tonight. Erin is in the mood for Japanese; Sue wants Mexican. Sue asks Erin to accommodate her, which she does.
In the first scenario, there was an imbalance that needed restoration. John was in the negative, having taken something of Sloan’s. Sloan doesn’t owe John a “Thank You” for restoring the balance. In the second scenario, Erin did Sue a favor. She sacrificed her own desire so that Sue could have a plus: the food she wants. In that case, Sue should say “Thank You”.
Rather than being condescending genteel-imitating robots, we should be more present in situations.
Show some respect. Say “Thank You” less.